The annual Taipei Gay Pride Parade, one of the biggest in Asia, was held a few days ago, on October 25th to be precise. Taiwan's China Times reported following:
Around 65,000 people yesterday marched toward Ketagalan Boulevard (凱達格蘭大道) as part of the 2014 Taiwan LGBT Pride (2014台灣同志遊行) parade event in celebration of the LGBT population and bringing awareness to the demographic.
Just like every year, not everybody was supportive of the parade:
The Taiwan Family Guardians Alliance (台灣守護家庭大聯盟) yesterday held a press conference while the 2014 LGBT Pride transpired, criticizing the event as immoral with an excessive amount of sexual display. Stating that the openness of the event is no different than public indecency, the alliance went on to publically encourage police authorities to conduct investigations to see if any laws were broken.
My initial reaction
I have not attended the parade this year, because I wasn't in the country, but I actually hoped to. The only time that I did attend was in 2011, and I had mixed feelings about it ever since. I expected a more serious protest for equality, instead it was more like a carnival style post-graduation march. When I saw images of bizzare costumes posted on Facebook by my Taiwanese and foreign friends who attended, I couldn't help but write following comment on my Facebook page today:
PBS: Same-sex marriage now recognized in six additional US states. Meanwhile in Taiwan it seems that it's all about parading half naked in silly costumes.
When I see images like this one (further below), I wonder what does dressing up that way contribute to the advancement of LGBT rights? What is the message you want to convey to society? If you're using the parade to show off your fetish, then I think you're harming the movement, it's not the right venue for that. As a strong supporter of LGBT rights, it saddens me every year to see how shallow the parade in Taipei has become. Wasn't one of the key arguments that we're all the same regardless of our sexual orientation? Where did that message disappear?
Check out how it looked like in 2004. That year only 4,000 people marched through Taipei pleading for equality and tolerance, this year some people thought they should highlight their genitals.
Maybe I'm getting old, or maybe I just fail to see the connection between dressing up like Hannibal Lecter and fighting for LGBT equality, maybe someone can enlighten me on this, and on the logic behind the 2014 Taiwan Pride Parade.
What followed was a long stream of diverse comments by gay and straight followers, which helped me to get a better understanding of what the parade actually symbolizes, and how these unusual costumes should be understood. I'm not an expert on gay rights, nor am I very familiar with the gay community in Taiwan, my reaction to these images was instantaneous and emotional. I could not comprehend the logic behind it. And based on the comments by my Facebook friends, I was not the only one. But when I've read some of my followers' comments and explanations, I really started to see things differently. In order to offer a similar experience to those parade skeptics among my blog readers, I decided to republish the best comments.
Understanding the Taipei Gay Pride Parade
The comment that gave me the most to think about my own understanding and perceptions was made by Alexander Synaptic. Here an excerpt of the main part:
Personally I think it is very positive and even remarkable that in Taiwan people feel comfortable enough to be themselves, however they may identify, at the annual pride celebration. The fetish wear you are wagging your finger at is part of queer culture and to bring it all out into the open is part of what the event is all about. You mentioned an argument that "we're all the same regardless of our sexual orientation" but I don't think this is quite true... rather we are -not- all the same regardless of sexual orientation but we're all human and deserve the same basic rights. Finally, I get the sense that you're making an argument from political pragmatism, namely that you support gay rights but feel like the optics on this particular subject are bad... well, maybe, but history is filled with queer people who tried to hide their identities and were discriminated against or slain regardless.
Eric K Han was the first one to actually answer my plead for a better understanding. Here is what he said:
I don't think there's anything wrong with what goes on at Pride. I tend to think of it as a parade rather than a march of human rights, and since it's merely a parade, I don't think what happens needs to have a direct effect on advancing gay rights. Like you said, it's just a carnival and there are other LGBT events organized specifically to advance gay rights. And from what I can tell, they way people act and the way the events are presented are quite different than Pride. These events just don't get as much publicity as Pride does. [Link 1][Link 2]
I hate when people (who are LGBT or not) say that certain people within the LGBT community are "harming the movement". Many straight-acting gays say that of more effeminate gays and it's a ridiculous statement to make. Just because certain people (or their costumes) aren't pleasing to the mainstream eye doesn't mean they shouldn't be celebrated in public as part of the parade, because whether we like it or not, they are part of the community.
David Reid, veteran Taiwan blogger, looked at the bigger picture, his comment struck a nerve with me as well:
It is important to understand the context that these marches take place in. In many parts of the world people face arrest, assault or even worse simply for publicly revealing their sexual orientation. In many countries any kind of LGBT rights march or parade is held in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. It would have been no different when the first march was held in Taiwan back in 2003. Thankfully Taiwan's society has become more accepting and open in the past couple of decades. It is a positive sign that Taiwan can hold such a large parade in a peaceful and happy way.
Also saying "we're all the same" misses a key point. We are all humans equally deserving of rights and dignity. However, the world would be a boring place if we were all the same. We can also celebrate our diversity and events like Taiwan Pride are a chance to do this.
Josh Ellis was on topic as well, and explained the way he sees the parade:
I think the point is to highlight the diversity of the LBGT community. They show their pride by marching on the streets doing things that may seem out of the ordinary to some - but that's the point. The atmosphere of pride should be like Mardi Gras or Carnival. They exhibit that they're proud to be LBGT and they want people who are afraid to come out to be able to feel the same way without a fear of persecution and exclusion from their friends and family.
Of course there are always some who may seem to take it too far at any pride parade and the media focuses on them alone. Which is where I see the problem and ultimately the necessity of continuing pride parades - the media focuses on the 'shocking' aspects of the parade and people who don't really understand or are biased against the community pick up on that and criticize it while completely forgetting that the overall message of pride is equality and love.
And to finish off the conversation, I'd like to highlight a comment by Jing-Yuan Chen, who says he's part of the community and attending for several years. Here's what he had to say:
As a gay and participant in the parade for 5 straight years, I see what you're getting at. I have to say yes the host are not "effect-oriented", since what you said is true, all the nudity is going to outshine the core equality issue on the media coverage. No progress of equality will be seen immediately. But by insisting on showing off the body and expressing the different sexual preference and orientation, we hope to familiarize outsiders that LGBT community is more tolerant for everything and that's the attitude we wish the other people have toward us. I wish I can say the discrimination will go away if we stop pounding each other's asses or stop sucking each other's d***s, but it's not, the hater will hate us simply because we like to have sex with the same gender. The discrimination we're suffering results from the orientation itself and the sex behind it, anal sex, fetish, BDSM, etc. which means to tackle the inequality you have to tackle the sex factor as well. To do that we have to make ppl not afraid of sexual impression, the basic manifesto is nudity. And yah, we provoke some prudish and fundies, but just like we fight in the court for a legal marriage, we hope this "rub on your face" measure will give those people a quick understanding that normal sex is not the only dominant intercourse in this world and everyone has right to express themselves in his or her most comfortable way, just like being sissy and dike.
Thank you all for the respectful discussion, and for a new perspective.
• Taiwanreporter's video of the 2014 parade
• Taiwanese activists urge for legalization of gay marriage
• Humans of Taipei: Gay Parade 2014